Bowdoin College Library Kicks Off George J. Mitchell Oral History Project

Story posted April 01, 2008

The Bowdoin College Library has inaugurated a three-year oral history project to document the life and career of U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell, a member of the Bowdoin College Class of 1954.

Mitchell, former majority leader of the U.S. Senate and architect of the Northern Ireland Good Friday peace agreement, is currently chairman of the Global Board of DLA Piper, one of the world's largest law firms.

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Sen. George Mitchell '54

Mitchell's reputation for integrity and impartial negotiation, coupled with his devotion to public service, have led to his involvement in various other endeavors, which include the establishment of the Mitchell Scholarship Research Institute and leading the recent investigation into the illegal use of steroids in Major League Baseball.

The George J. Mitchell Oral History Project will record, preserve and provide access to interviews with hundreds of individuals who have personal knowledge of the events and people associated with the senator throughout his lifetime.

These project recordings will provide current and future researchers primary source materials that augment and complement both the George J. Mitchell Papers, also housed at Bowdoin College, and the wider body of work in the field of oral history. The project also will create a legislative compendium of Mitchell work in the U.S. Senate, annotated to provide explanations and context for particular legislative actions that involved the senator.

Project Director Andrea L'Hommedieu, a librarian and oral historian, will conduct the interviews along with a number of field interviewers. Bowdoin College students will provide additional support through research and editing.

"I am grateful to Bowdoin College, to Andrea L'Hommedieu, and to the other women and men who have agreed to participate in this oral history project," said Mitchell.

"Increasingly, success in human affairs will be based on knowledge, which includes an understanding of history and historical context. It is my hope that this project will provide insight and context for researchers, scholars and historians studying the events in which I have had the privilege to participate."

Interviewees will include Mitchell's childhood friends and acquaintances, family members, college contemporaries, Maine legislators, political associates and competitors, campaign supporters, Senate office staff, Senate colleagues and committee staff members, public agency officials, foreign policy specialists, law practice associates, public policy advocates, board members of various affiliations and others.

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The recordings will touch on a variety of topics including Mitchell's childhood years, education and legal career; Maine politics and campaigns; U.S. Senate years; the Northern Ireland peace accords; the Mitchell Institute; and Sen. Mitchell's involvement with the Boston Red Sox, the Walt Disney Corporation, Major League Baseball and the 9/11 Liberty Fund, among others.

In telling their stories, interviewees will provide a context for the extensive documentary record found in the George J. Mitchell Papers at Bowdoin College. That context includes a sense of the times and the interactions between people associated with Mitchell — aspects, that to this point, have been poorly documented in the historical record. Each interview will be transcribed, edited and indexed, and all interview recordings and transcriptions will be freely accessible on the Internet.

Mitchell, a native of Waterville, Maine, earned his law degree at Georgetown University and practiced law before becoming Sen. Edmund Muskie's (D-Maine) executive assistant. He subsequently held numerous posts in the Democratic Party, serving as deputy campaign director for Sen. Muskie's bids for national office, and making an unsuccessful run for governor of Maine in 1974.

In the late 1970s, Mitchell accepted the post of U.S. Attorney for Maine and later was appointed a U.S. district court judge. His 14-year Senate career began with his appointment to fill Sen. Muskie's term when Muskie became U.S. Secretary of State.

As senator, Mitchell served on the Select Committee on the Iran-Contra Affair, was instrumental in the passage of significant legislation on environmental and health care issues, and was Senate Majority Leader from 1988 until his retirement in January 1995. In November of that year, President Bill Clinton appointed Mitchell Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Economic Initiatives in Ireland. It was in this role amid the Northern Ireland peace process that Mitchell orchestrated one of his proudest achievements, the Good Friday Agreement.

In 2000 Mitchell agreed to serve as chairman of the Sharm el-Sheikh International Fact-Finding Committee on Israeli/Palestinian violence.

The Mitchell Oral History Project is based at Bowdoin College's Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.

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Note on the project director:

Andrea L'Hommedieu was appointed Project Director of the George J. Mitchell Oral History Project in December 2007. A librarian and oral historian, L'Hommedieu formerly served as oral historian for the Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Project at Bates College. She has also conducted interviews and managed oral history projects for Museum L-A (Lewiston, Maine), and she maintains her interest in children's librarianship, serving on the Lupine Award Committee, which presents the Maine Children's Literature Award.

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